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Hearing Loss and Dementia

July 23, 2021

Hearing loss is often thought of as a common ailment that comes along with aging. However, did you know that hearing loss is connected to an increased risk of dementia? Our trusted resources at HearUSA have provided us with helpful information to be sure that seniors and families know all the warning signs and can take action early. 

Most people wait about 7 years – when they know they have hearing loss – to do something about it. Now that scientists have shown that hearing loss leads to a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it’s even more important than ever to address hearing loss right away.

Scientists link hearing loss with dementia

An Archives of Neurology study concluded that older adults with hearing loss appear more likely to develop dementia. This risk increases as hearing loss becomes more severe. 

The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine and supported by the intramural research program of the National Institute on Aging, focused on 639 people whose hearing and cognitive abilities were tested between 1990 and 1994. These volunteers were closely followed with repeat examinations every one to two years (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2011). 

Approximately 25% of the volunteers had some hearing loss at the beginning of the study, and none had been previously diagnosed with dementia. By 2008, 58 people in the study had developed dementia. Compared to volunteers with normal hearing, those with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss had up to five times the risk of developing dementia; the greater the hearing loss, the higher the likelihood of developing dementia. 

Even after researchers took into account other factors associated with a risk of dementia — diabetes, high blood pressure, age, sex and race — hearing loss and dementia were still strongly connected. The toll? For every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of developing dementia increased by 20%.

What’s behind the decline?

Hearing loss saps energy that can be used elsewhere in the body. The study found that older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss expended so much effort concentrating on hearing that it reduced their ability to remember a short word list. Researchers believe the strain of decoding sounds may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss; over the years, leaving them more vulnerable to develop dementia. 

Where do we start?

We start by changing our view of hearing loss as an unimportant health issue. Most hearing loss can be managed with hearing aids. By addressing hearing loss, the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is lowered.

If you or someone you know has or suspects hearing loss, the first step is scheduling a hearing screening with a professional hearing care provider. Your local Oasis Senior Advisor connects older adults and their families to trusted resources in your community, like health care providers, professional caregivers, senior living communities and others that serve the senior population.  To learn more about how an Oasis Senior Advisor can provide needed resources at no cost, call (888) 455-5838. One call can offer many solutions for a senior in need.

To contact HearUSA and schedule a free hearing screening, call 1-855-222-1902.